School Leaders Want the State to Push Local Boards for Money
April 20, 2010
Charter school administrators say the state is offering little to no assistance in helping receive money owed to them by local school boards.
Ozie Hall, principal at Kinston Charter Academy, say s the Lenoir County Board of Education might owe his school more than $800,000. Simon Johnson, at Quality Education Schools in Winston-Salem, and Don McQueen, at Raleigh’s Torchlight Academy, don’t know how much they’re owed. Administrators say they can’t get school boards to tell them how the amounts being paid to them are calculated. And the state appears unwilling “to get in the middle” of the dispute, both McQueen and Johnson said.
Charter schools won a major financial battle in February 2009. The N.C. Court of Appeals agreed with a lower court’s decision that school boards must share local per-pupil funds with charter schools. The appeals court ordered Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education to pay Sugar Creek Charter School $1.3 million in back payments.
The Court of Appeals reasoned that providing equal funding to charter school students and regular public school students was required under the legislation authorizing charter schools. The state Supreme Court upheld the ruling.
“When the court decision was made we received no notice from the state,” McQueen said. “We received no indication the state would be coordinating efforts to make sure we would receive funds as the court decided.”
Charter schools generally are smaller than many schools overseen by local school boards. Kinston Charter Academy has 350 students enrolled this year. Torchlight Academy has 417. Quality Education has 268 youngsters.
Johnson and McQueen have received some funds from their respective school boards, but cite a lack of information about how the sums were reached or the actual amounts owed. A Feb. 10 memo from the Wake County Public School System to Torchlight Academy states, “This payment meets the requirements established in the ruling and includes amounts for the fiscal years of 2 006-07, 2007-08 and 2008-09.” A check for $95,145.89 was included. McQueen is still waiting for the 2009-10 payment.
Hall contends that the Sugar Creek ruling is unclear on how many previous years the back payments should cover. Kinston Charter Academy was established in 2004 and that’s the date Hall used to determine the amount his school is owed. He cites a court ruling in Williams v. Blue Cross, in which the court said a continuing wrong act continues until the conduct stops. However, Hall is in negotiations with the Lenoir County school board, and has said he would settle the dispute for $253,000. If the two parties cannot reach an agreement soon, Hall promises to file suit against the board.
“It’s a significant amount of money,” he said. “It severely impairs us. We could have two or three more teachers, new school buses, make repairs to buildings, if we had the money.”
Johnson’s school initially had trouble collecting forfeiture and fine money local and district courts send to school districts. “We fought for three years. I have no way of knowing if the amount we’re getting is accurate,” he said. “We just get a check.” The uncertainty makes annual budgeting difficult, he added.
Although charter school administrators want help from the state Charter Schools Office, Paul LeSieur, director of school business services for the state, says the office is limited in its ability to help. The office is responsible for visiting schools, overseeing applications for potential new charter schools, and help with governance issues, such as operations and setting up a board of directors.
“We can’t force LEAs (local education agencies/school boards) to do anything,” LeSieur said. “We cannot get involved in telling them what dollars they need to give charter schools.”
Johnson said the Forsyth County Board of Education has never told him how it will determine the amount of money owed to Quality Education Schools.
“I have a feeling we’re being underpaid,” he said. “I’ve talked with the state and haven’t gotten any help from them, either.”
Hall asked the state Attorney General’s office to intervene. He was told the office has no legal authority to become involved, even though he is attempting to collect money the courts say his school is due.
McQueen wants the state General Assembly to step in. He says schools should ask lawmakers to clarify the Charter Schools Office’s responsibilities.
Lee Raynor is a contributor to Carolina Journal.